25 September 1915 – the first day of the Battle of Loos
|Horace Collins, Private. Ox & Bucks LI 5th BN. Son of William and Emily Collins, of 13, St. Aldates St., Oxford. Aged 19.||Harry Douglas Woodley, Private, Queen’s (Royal West Surrey Regt). Brother of Mrs. Elsie Stopps, of 3, Malthouse Cottages, The Vineyard, Abingdon, Berks. Aged 21.|
Both men are commemorated on the Menin Gate.
The Menin Gate is one of four memorials to the missing in Belgian Flanders which cover the area known as the Ypres Salient. Broadly speaking, the Salient stretched from Langemarck in the north to the northern edge in Ploegsteert Wood in the south, but it varied in area and shape throughout the war.
The Salient was formed during the First Battle of Ypres in October and November 1914, when a small British Expeditionary Force succeeded in securing the town before the onset of winter, pushing the German forces back to the Passchendaele Ridge. The Second Battle of Ypres began in April 1915 when the Germans released poison gas into the Allied lines north of Ypres. This was the first time gas had been used by either side and the violence of the attack forced an Allied withdrawal and a shortening of the line of defence.
The battles of the Ypres Salient claimed many lives on both sides and it quickly became clear that the commemoration of members of the Commonwealth forces with no known grave would have to be divided between several different sites.
The site of the Menin Gate was chosen because of the hundreds of thousands of men who passed through it on their way to the battlefields.
27 July 1916 – Battle of the Somme
|Edwin Norman Mattingley, Private, Princess Charlotte’s (Royal Berkshire Regt) 1st BN. Aged 25. Son of Thomas and Susan Jane Mattingley, of 35, Radley, Abingdon, Berks. Commemorated on the Thiépval Memorial. He worked for the College as a gardener’s boy from the age of 15. By 1914 he was employed as a footman. He played football for the village team. He enlisted on 11 August 1914. Missing in action during the Battle of the Somme. (Source Mawhinney pp81-2)|
1 March 1917
|William Rogers, Ox & Bucks LI, 6th Bn. Commemorated on the Thiépval Memorial|
On 1 July 1916, supported by a French attack to the south, thirteen divisions of Commonwealth forces launched an offensive on a line from north of Gommecourt to Maricourt. Despite a preliminary bombardment lasting seven days, the German defences were barely touched and the attack met unexpectedly fierce resistance. Losses were catastrophic and with only minimal advances on the southern flank, the initial attack was a failure. In the following weeks, huge resources of manpower and equipment were deployed in an attempt to exploit the modest successes of the first day. However, the German Army resisted tenaciously and repeated attacks and counter attacks meant a major battle for every village, copse and farmhouse gained. At the end of September, Thiépval was finally captured. The village had been an original objective of 1 July. Attacks north and east continued throughout October and into November in increasingly difficult weather conditions. The Battle of the Somme finally ended on 18 November with the onset of winter.
The Thiépval Memorial, the Memorial to the Missing of the Somme, bears the names of more than 72,000 officers and men of the United Kingdom and South African forces who died in the Somme sector before 20 March 1918 and have no known grave. Over 90% of those commemorated died between July and November 1916.
24 April 1917 – Greece
|Edward Henry Freeman, Private, Ox & Bucks LI, 7th BN. Son of Henry John and M. E. Louise Freeman, of 13A, Holywell St., Oxford. Aged 22.
Commemorated on the Doiran Memorial Greece.
The Doiran Memorial stands roughly in the centre of the line occupied for two years by the Allies in Macedonia, but close to the western end, which was held by Commonwealth forces. It marks the scene of the fierce fighting of 1917-1918, which caused the majority of the Commonwealth battle casualties.
From October 1915 to the end of November 1918, the British Salonika Force suffered some 2,800 deaths in action, 1,400 from wounds and 4,200 from sickness. The campaign afforded few successes for the Allies, and none of any importance until the last two months. The action of the Commonwealth force was hampered throughout by widespread and unavoidable sickness and by continual diplomatic and personal differences with neutrals or Allies. On one front there was a wide malarial river valley and on the other, difficult mountain ranges, and many of the roads and railways it required had to be specially constructed.
The memorial serves the dual purpose of Battle Memorial of the British Salonika Force (for which a large sum of money was subscribed by the officers and men of that force), and place of commemoration for more than 2,000 Commonwealth servicemen who died in Macedonia and whose graves are not known.
30 November 1917 – Battle of Cambrai
|W Frederick Hermon, Lance Corporal, Princess Charlotte’s (Royal Berkshire Regt) 5th Bn. Commemorated on the Cambrai Memorial.|
The Cambrai Memorial commemorates more than 7,000 servicemen of the United Kingdom and South Africa who died in the Battle of Cambrai in November and December 1917 and whose graves are not known.
Sir Douglas Haig described the object of the Cambrai operations as the gaining of a ‘local success by a sudden attack at a point where the enemy did not expect it’ and to some extent they succeeded. The proposed method of assault was new, with no preliminary artillery bombardment. Instead, tanks would be used to break through the German wire, with the infantry following under the cover of smoke barrages.
The attack began early in the morning of 20 November 1917 and initial advances were remarkable. However, by 22 November, a halt was called for rest and reorganisation, allowing the Germans to reinforce. From 23 to 28 November, the fighting was concentrated almost entirely around Bourlon Wood and by 29 November, it was clear that the Germans were ready for a major counter attack. During the fierce fighting of the next five days, much of the ground gained in the initial days of the attack was lost.
For the Allies, the results of the battle were ultimately disappointing but valuable lessons were learnt about new strategies and tactical approaches to fighting. The Germans had also discovered that their fixed lines of defence, no matter how well prepared, were vulnerable.
23 March 1918 – Second Battle of the Somme
|Horace Stevens, Lance Corporal, Ox & Bucks Light Infantry. Aged 21. The son of Charles & Mary Stevens of 78 Abbey Rd, Oxford. Commemorated on the Pozières Memorial.|
The Pozières Memorial relates to the period of crisis in March and April 1918 when the Allied Fifth Army was driven back by overwhelming numbers across the former Somme battlefields, and the months that followed before the Advance to Victory, which began on 8 August 1918.
29 October 1918 – the last few days
|HR Bradley, Lance Serjeant, Ox & Bucks LI, 2nd/4th Bn. Buried at Rocquiny-Equancourt Road British Cemetery, Manancourt|
Etricourt was occupied by Commonwealth troops at the beginning of April 1917 during the German withdrawal to the Hindenburg Line. It was lost on the 23 March 1918 when the Germans advanced, but regained at the beginning of September.
The cemetery was begun in 1917 and used until March 1918, mainly by the 21st and 48th Casualty Clearing Stations posted at Ytres, and to a small extent by the Germans, who knew it as “Etricourt Old English Cemetery”. Burials were resumed by Commonwealth troops in September 1918 and the 3rd Canadian and 18th Casualty Clearing Stations buried in it in October and November 1918.
With the exception of Edwin Mattingley we do not know what specific jobs were undertaken by these men as ‘servants’ of the College. At the time it employed gardeners, cooks, butlers, maintenance men and it is clear that young men could move between them all. The servitors were regarded as a vital part of the school which funded part of their education.
Information about the battles and memorials from the Commonwealth War Graves Commission
Other information from MJB Mawhinney, 2010. Gone for a solder: Radley service men 1885-1920
© Clare Sargent 2016